Firms worried about reporting a sizable gender pay gap should focus on ensuring their strategy to tackle the problem is clear
Reputation has always mattered in business – nobody wants to work with firms they are ashamed of. But already, 2018 feels like a turning point; from Carillion’s collapse to the revelations about the guests at the Presidents Club.
The upcoming gender pay gap reporting requirement, and the suggestion there is more of the same to come, presents a potential reputational flashpoint. With two months until the deadline, just 770 of 9,000 businesses (including 24 construction companies) have released their figures, receiving both praise and opprobrium. Lendlease reported a 30.4% mean gender pay gap, but avoided the criticism levelled at the BBC or firms such as Ladbrokes or Easyjet by going above and beyond and sharing its strategy for narrowing the gulf.
Companies need to avoid being caught off guard and develop a coherent narrative prior to reporting
Given that it’s no secret that construction remains male-dominated, firms are perhaps hoping that by waiting until April, they will bury a bad news story amidst myriad others. But rather than panicking, smart businesses will see measures around transparency and diversity as an opportunity.
Companies need to avoid being caught off guard and develop a coherent narrative prior to reporting. Think about what story you are telling, and how to communicate any changes you are making – and make sure your spokespeople are well briefed.
Politicians and the media want to know businesses understand the value and purpose of gender pay gap reporting. They want to see action plans tailored to the specific issues of the sector and company. Despite a 31% pay gap, TSB has been praised by government for being willing to tackle things head-on. Yet so far only half of companies that have reported their gap have also published a plan to narrow it. Smart companies will be those able to show they have considered the underlying causes – such as unwarranted perceptions of a sector as “male” - and are taking appropriate steps, whether around recruitment, flexible working or remuneration.
Likewise, a sizeable pay gap could sow the seeds of resentment, so in the short term it’s imperative to be open and transparent in your internal communications. In the longer-term it’s about engaging with employees by, perhaps, creating a process where you ask female staff for recommendations about how to attract more women into construction.
Smart companies will be those able to show they have considered the underlying causes – such as unwarranted perceptions of a sector as “male” - and are taking appropriate steps, whether around recruitment, flexible working or remuneration
Of course, gender pay is only the starting point – and businesses need to be aware of what else is on the horizon. A government-commissioned review by Ruby McGregor-Smith called for ethnicity pay gap reporting, which the government has not ruled out if voluntary action does not deliver. Meanwhile, Business Select Committee Chair Rachel Reeves MP is considering an inquiry into other areas of workplace diversity.
Gender pay gap reporting is just the first step on a long ladder towards change. There is much to do, including with schools and universities, to embed a more gender balanced culture in construction, from ensuring girls and boys are exposed to the same toys, to improving the confidence of young women so they consider STEM subjects. The crucial point is that businesses thrive when their employees thrive – regardless of gender, race or age. This is just one piece in a bigger puzzle.
Alice Wood is head of corporate responsibility at Lexington Communications, advising businesses on CSR, diversity and inclusion strategy and programming